SARS-CoV-2 concentrations in a wastewater collection system indicated potential COVID-19 hotspots at the zip code level

Renys E. Barrios, Chin Lim, Megan S. Kelley, Xu Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Wastewater based epidemiology (WBE) has been successfully applied for SARS-CoV-2 surveillance at the city and building levels. However, sampling at the city level does not provide sufficient spatial granularity to identify COVID-19 hotspots, while data from building-level sampling are too narrow in scope for broader public health application. The objective of this study was to examine the feasibility of using wastewater from wastewater collection systems (WCSs) to monitor COVID-19 hotspots at the zip code level. In this study, 24-h composite wastewater samples were collected from five manholes and two wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) in the City of Lincoln, Nebraska. By comparing to the reported weekly COVID-19 case numbers, we identified different hotspots responsible for two COVID-19 surges during the study period. One zip code was the only sampling locations that was consistently tested positive during the first COVID-19 surge. In comparison, nearly all the zip codes tested exhibited virus concentration increases that overlapped with the second COVID-19 surge, suggesting broader spread of the virus at that time. These findings demonstrate the feasibility of using WBE to monitor COVID-19 at the zip code level. Highly localized disease surveillance methods can improve public health prevention and mitigation measures at the community level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number149480
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Dec 15 2021


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Wastewater collection system
  • Wastewater-based epidemiology
  • Zip code

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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